Monday, 4 April 2011

BIOTERRORISM: Michael Crocker and ricin, plea entered

March 29, 2011

A 57-year-old Massachusetts man is expected to serve 15 years in prison after acknowledging on Monday that he illicitly held the lethal toxin ricin and threatened a federal prosecutor, the Boston Globe reported (see GSN, April 16, 2010).
Michael Crooker is scheduled for sentencing on June 20 in U.S. District Court in Boston. Crooker was arrested in 2004 when federal authorities descended on his house in Agawam after determining he had tried to send a handmade gun sound suppressor through the mail system. Along with potential bomb-making material, investigators discovered seeds that could be used to produce ricin and the deadly poison abrin, along with equipment to draw the toxins out of the seeds, according to U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz. In July of that year, Crooker sent a letter to the federal prosecutor handling his case, making reference to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. “As Martyr McVeigh’s T-shirt says: ‘The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time by blood of patriots and tyrants,'" the letter stated.

Crooker suggested that even from jail it was possible to deliver dangerous materials through the nation's postal delivery system, Ortiz said.
The next month, Crooker's father discovered a small container of ricin stashed underground on his land. Crooker acknowledged that the material was his and had been interred in that location for three to four years, according to Ortiz (Stewart Bishop, Boston Globe, March 29).
"The quantity of ricin in the vial was enough to kill 150-750 people," the Justice Department said in a release.
The toxin is derived from castor seeds and was most famously employed in the 1978 assassination of Bulgarian exile Georgi Markov (see GSN, Sept. 11, 2008). It is considered a potential bioterrorism threat (Agence France-Presse/Yahoo!News, March 28).
Crooker has been held by authorities since 2004, the Globe reported. A plea deal calls for him to receive the total possible 15-year sentence on iindividual federal charges of mailing a letter containing a threat to injure an officer or employee of the United States and possessing the toxin, ricin, without the required registration. Along with the prison term, he faces penalties of $500,000 (Bishop, Boston Globe).

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